Thursday 14 December 2017

A revolution in non-fiction

Reading about other people's lives can be the greatest fun - and there is no shortage of non-fiction books set to appear this year. Madeleine Keane selects highlights to savour

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge - Camilla is the subject of Penny Junor's account of love and aristocratic titles
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge - Camilla is the subject of Penny Junor's account of love and aristocratic titles
In June the work of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington is curated by Dr Margaret Ward in ‘Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington: Suffragette and Sinn Feiner’
Votes for Women - a Suffragette pin
Prince is the subject of Mayte Garcia’s ‘The Most Beautiful, My Life with Prince’ by the dancer and actress who was formerly married to the singer

To devour more books always seems like an excellent New Year revolution - as a young friend of mine calls them.

Novels and poetry are my first ports of literary call, so for 2017 I've decided to read more non-fiction. Where better to start than delving into the minutiae of others people's lives? And all the better if they are writers too.

Waiting on my bedside table is a long overdue life of Molly Keane (Virago) written by her daughter Sally Phipps: the Anglo-Irish author of Good Behaviour was apparently a mother 'of stiletto sharpness and infinite kindness'. (See this section, pages 16-18)

Literary biographer Jenny Uglow voyages to Italy, Greece and Albania, to the Levant, Egypt and India, to unravel the idiosyncrasies of Edward Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense (Faber, Oct) and Alice Walker's memoir Gathering Blossoms Under Fire (Weidenfeld, Oct) which is described as 'a selection of her private chronicles' sounds tempting.

In The Disappearance of Emile Zola (Faber, Jan) Michael Rosen recalls love, literature and the Dreyfus case in the extraordinary story of Emile Zola's escape from France, and his time spent in exile in London after the publication of his open letter 'J'accuse' and in October, from the same imprint, comes Ariel: A Literary Life of Jan Morris - publisher and literary agent Derek Johns's appreciation of the celebrated writer. Between Them (Bloomsbury, May) is the great American writer Richard Ford's elegiac account of his parents's love affair.

Maxine Kohler was 39 when her husband, a brilliant and respected surgeon, drove their car off the road and killed her. Once We Were Sisters (Canongate, Feb) is Sheila Kohler's powerful portrait of the bond she shared with her sister, their childhood in 1950s South Africa and the account of her tragic loss.In Ayesha's Gift (Simon & Schuster, Jan) Martin Sixsmith, author of Philomena, tells the story of a Pakistani girl living in Britain trying to find out the truth behind her father's mysterious death.

In 1975 Paddy Armstrong was falsely convicted of helping to carry out the Guildford and Woolwich bombings and spent 15 years in prison before his conviction was quashed. Unbroken (Gill Books, March), written with Mary Elaine Tynan, revisits his ordeal and its aftermath. UVF: Behind the Mask (Merrion Press, May) by Aaron Edwards includes interviews with the UVF leadership and their loyalist rivals, among them Johnny Adair - as well as startling new revelations on the Shankill Butchers, Billy Wright and the Dublin and Monaghan bombs. In June Dr Margaret Ward curates the work of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington: Suffragette and Sinn Feiner: Her Political Writings (UCD Press).

In celebrityland, Alec Baldwin reflects on his turbulent life and times in Nevertheless (Harper, April) while royalists should look out for The Duchess (William Collins, June), Penny Junor's account of the enduring love story between Charles, Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla. Published in April on the first anniversary of his death comes The Most Beautiful, My Life with Prince (Trapeze), dancer and actress Mayte Garcia's account of her life with her ex-husband. Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (William Collins, May) is tagged as the definitive account of Obama's life before he became 44th president of the USA by Pulitzer-winning David Garrow.

The Tudor court is always compelling so I'm looking forward to Young And Damned and Fair (William Collins, Jan), Gareth Russell's account of Katherine Howard's short life and tragic marriage to Henry VIII and in The Restless Kings (Faber, November) Nick Barratt recounts the tumultuous struggle for supremacy between the first Plantagenet king, Henry II, and his four sons - a drama that tore apart the most powerful family in western Europe and shaped the future of two nations.

Award-winning historian Bettany Hughes pieces together the history of Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities (Weidenfeld, Jan) in a riveting biography of a brilliant, bloodied city. A Crime in the Family (Quercus, March) is political reporter Sacha Batthyany's memoir of his family's involvement with the Holocaust. Thoughts turn to wanderings at this time of year and Michael Portillo takes us on a wonderful trip in Great American Railroad Journeys (Simon & Schuster, Jan).

Tying in with his BBC2 series, the former politician travels from New York and Boston through the Deep South to Chicago and New Mexico ending up in San Francisco.

Closer to home, The Rule of the Land: Walking the Irish Border (Faber, Jan) is map-maker Garrett Carr's narrative (accompanied by his maps and photos) of his travels - by foot and on canoe - along our borderland.

There's a recent vogue for medical memoirs and Fragile Lives (Harper, Feb) is pioneering heart surgeon Professor Stephen Westaby's insightful look back at a career spent holding people's lives in his hands.

Next month Hachette Ireland publishes Crime or Compassion: One Woman's Story of a Loving Friendship that Knew no Bounds - Gail O'Rorke's unflinching account of being charged with and acquitted of assisting the suicide of her friend Bernadette Ford.

In Future Sex (Faber, Jan) Emily Witt offers a candid, moving antidote to conventional attitudes about sex and the single woman, chronicling her experiences of going to bars alone, online dating, and hooking up with strangers.

In terms of health and self-help, I'd read anything by Liz Earle. Following on from her fabulous Skin comes The Good Gut Guide (Orion, May), a six-week plan on how to improve your well-being from within, while hugely popular French doctor Michel Cymes tells how it's never too late to start living healthily in Live Better and Longer (Quercus, Jan).

Finally, let's not forget our mental health. Finding Hope in the Age of Anxiety (Gill Books, April) offers clinical psychologist Dr Claire Hayes's prescriptions for coping with anxiety and Annemarie O'Connor's The Happy Medium (Gill Books, Jan) will advise us how to swap the weight of having it all for 'having more with less'.

Which sounds like the perfect spirit with which to start 2017.

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